“If You Could Only See” was both the song the put Tonic on the map, and the one that put the bullet in their career. If you’re over a certain age, you remember the powerful and tasteful ballad from when it hit the charts in 1997. I had the album already. I bought it when it first came out, after reading a glowing review in the local paper and seeing a used copy pop in at the Record Store. Finding Jack Joseph Puig’s name in the producer credits got my attention too.
Tonic’s debut Lemon Parade is a great sounding CD, thanks to Puig and the richly arranged guitars of Emerson Hart and Jeff Russo. When the guitars are center stage, all is well. The opening duo of “Open Up Your Eyes” and “Casual Affair” have the punch that people don’t always associate with Tonic. These guys could play. “Casual Affair” in particular has angst and emotion ripping out of those six-strings. When they get heavy, like on “Wicked Soldier”, there is always something bright and chiming going on with backing guitars. Check out “Celtic Aggression” for a fine example of their guitar expertise. Emerson Hart has an emotive voice, whether rocking out or serenading the ballads.
It’s the ballads the people remember, and you have to admit that when you break it down, “If You Could Only See” is a fantastic song. Layers of chiming, chugging and sliding guitars are right there beneath the core melodies. On the mandolin-infused “Mountain”, plus “Soldier’s Daughter” and “Lemon Parade”, you can absolutely hear old-tyme southern influences creeping through. Tonic have traits that sound as if from another era, in many ways. These are actually quite great songs, largely forgotten because of that one hit.
There are only a few songs that don’t score top marks: “Thick” (no hooks), “Mr. Golden Deal” & “My Old Man” (both too sleepy). The rest is pretty solid.